THE SCHOOL REFORM COMMISSION AND THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, Petitioners
PHILADELPHIA FEDERATION OF TEACHERS, LOCAL 3, AFT, AFL-CIO, Respondent
Mr. Chief Justice Castille files a dissenting statement which is joined by Mr. Justice Baer.
AND NOW, this 26th day of June, 2014, the Application for Leave to File Amicus Curiae Brief filed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Acting Secretary of Education, the Application for Leave to File Amicus Curiae Brief filed by the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, the Application for Leave to File Amicus Curiae Brief filed by StudentsFirst, and the Application for Leave to File Amended Statement of Amicus Curiae Senator Lawrence M. Farnese et al., the Application for Leave to File Amicus Curiae Brief in Support of Petitioners, filed by Philadelphia School Partnership and PennCAN, and the Application for Leave to File a Statement of Amicus Curiae in Support of Response, filed by Robert M. McCord, are GRANTED. The Application for Leave to File Reply is GRANTED. The Application for Leave to File Original Process and Exclusive Jurisdiction Complaint for Declaratory Judgment is DENIED.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE CASTILLE
The issue at this stage is jurisdictional: does the instant controversy fall within our exclusive jurisdiction. The Court declines, without comment, the Application for Leave to File Original Process and Exclusive Jurisdiction Complaint for Declaratory Judgment. I believe the jurisdictional issue at the very least is debatable, and in the end, I conclude that we are obliged to entertain the Complaint. Hence, I respectfully dissent.
This case concerns the School District of Philadelphia (" School District" ), which has experienced significant financial challenges for more than a decade. At the commencement of the 2001-02 school year, there was a $200 million operating shortfall in the School District's $2 billion budget. In December 2001, the Secretary of Education declared the School District to be in distress per Section 691 of the Act of Apr. 27, 1998, P.L. 270, No. 46
(" Act 1998-46" ). This declaration triggered a total change in the governance of the School District: The Philadelphia Board of School Directors was suspended, and the School Reform Commission (" SRC" ) was immediately formed to oversee the School District. The SRC, which is comprised of unelected members who are appointed by the Governor and the Mayor of Philadelphia, has broad powers that no other governing body of a school district in Pennsylvania possesses. Section 696 of Act 1998-46 granted the SRC sweeping powers, including the power to avoid strictures typically placed on a school district with respect to staffing. For example, the SRC was authorized to close or reconstitute schools, including reassigning, suspending or dismissing professional employees notwithstanding other provisions of the Public School Code. Additionally, the SRC was authorized to suspend professional employees without regard to the School Code provision relating to seniority preferences. See, 24 P.S. § 6-696(i)(6) and (7).
Section 696 also radically shifted the balance of power in the collective bargaining process. Employees are prohibited from striking while the School District is under SRC control. See 24 P.S. § 6-696(l). Section 696 also granted management more authority, stating that the SRC is not required to engage in collective bargaining negotiations with respect to a host of issues, including reductions in the work force, staffing patterns and assignments, and contracts with third parties for the provision of goods and services. See 24 P.S. § 6-696(k)(2).
The General Assembly altered how litigation with respect to certain Act 1998-46 issues would proceed. The General Assembly removed certain Act 1998-46 disputes from the ordinary adjudication process, stating that " [t]he Pennsylvania Supreme Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear any challenge to or to render a declaratory judgment concerning the constitutionality of sections 691(c) and 696 of the act and issues related to collective bargaining arising under those sections." Act 1998-46, § 27.
After the declaration of distress, the financial condition of the School District continued to deteriorate. In fiscal year 2011-12, the School District's funding dropped more than $300 million compared to the prior year. In response, the SRC reduced the School District's expenditures, largely through staffing reductions. At the start of the 2010-11 school year, the School District had ...